Microchurches really are “in”

In my “in” and “out” prediction of fashions for the new year, I predicted that megachurches would be “out” and microchurches would be “in.” That was based primarily on wishful thinking. But now I see that I was right! This is what the church growth experts are saying! Terry Mattingly quotes and discusses a news story on the subject:

Microchurches have been around since New Testament days but have become more popular in the past decade. Though the groups differ widely in their practices, the majority serve less than 100 members, typically don’t own the building where they meet, often practice nondenominational evangelism and intentionally offer believers a worship atmosphere unlike that of established churches. Many of the groups wish to remain small and will plant a new congregation if numbers grow too large.

“People are yearning for a more intimate type of fellowship that they, in many cases, did not find in the very large church,” said Carol Childress, founder of FrameWorks, a church consulting firm based in Texas. “In the course of one generation, as a culture here in the United States, we made a 180-degree turn — from valuing strong individuals to searching for a sense of community.”

That second sentence describes my congregation (except for the nondenominational part)! Our worship atmosphere is indeed unlike established churches, in that we are highly liturgical, while “established churches” now largely use contemporary worship. I assure you that it was not our intention to be fashionable; indeed, we have been trying to NOT be fashionable. But there you go.

But just consider the advantages of small churches. You get to actually know your pastor, and he knows you. He can give you the pastoral care that you need. You can get to know and interact with all your fellow members, making a true sense of community possible. Such things are virtually impossible in a megachurch.

via This little church of mine, I’m gonna … » GetReligion.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • wayne pelling

    I belong to a baptist church of approximately 250 ,that started 7 years ago with 25 people. We meet in a community centre, sunday mornking is an evangelistic type service and every second thursday evening is a Bible Study and Communion. Most of the people have come from megachurches in our area ,from catholic and Anglican and Uniting Church of Australia,hence the services do not have a denominational tag ,although we are under the Baptist Union of victoria(Australia) just for accountability purposes. The next step is possibly planting another congregation to maintain the smallish numbers. We are to some extent based upon Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church,and our Senior Pastor studied in the USA for his masters in theology-

  • wayne pelling

    I belong to a baptist church of approximately 250 ,that started 7 years ago with 25 people. We meet in a community centre, sunday mornking is an evangelistic type service and every second thursday evening is a Bible Study and Communion. Most of the people have come from megachurches in our area ,from catholic and Anglican and Uniting Church of Australia,hence the services do not have a denominational tag ,although we are under the Baptist Union of victoria(Australia) just for accountability purposes. The next step is possibly planting another congregation to maintain the smallish numbers. We are to some extent based upon Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church,and our Senior Pastor studied in the USA for his masters in theology-

  • http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/ womanofthehouse

    We’ve been attending small churches since 1996. The first, Reformed Baptist in flavor, averaged about 50 on a Sunday morning, and the church we go to now (LCMS) averages about 75. We at first ruled out the Reformed Baptist church precisely because it was so small, but once we began attending, we could see the difference in the sense of community there. We are hooked!

  • http://womanofthehouse-blog.blogspot.com/ womanofthehouse

    We’ve been attending small churches since 1996. The first, Reformed Baptist in flavor, averaged about 50 on a Sunday morning, and the church we go to now (LCMS) averages about 75. We at first ruled out the Reformed Baptist church precisely because it was so small, but once we began attending, we could see the difference in the sense of community there. We are hooked!

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bikebubba

    The smallness is great, and there is also a huge advantage that men get a chance to lead instead of just sit in a pew. And when you want a building, it’s a lot easier to find a 1/2 or 1 acre lot to build on than it is to find a larger building to renovate or a larger lot for building.

    (plus, office style architecture doesn’t work well with extremely small buildings)

    A final huge advantage; when the government turns against you, as it does in China and other Communist nations, it’s not so hard to find a place to meet when you disperse.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bikebubba

    The smallness is great, and there is also a huge advantage that men get a chance to lead instead of just sit in a pew. And when you want a building, it’s a lot easier to find a 1/2 or 1 acre lot to build on than it is to find a larger building to renovate or a larger lot for building.

    (plus, office style architecture doesn’t work well with extremely small buildings)

    A final huge advantage; when the government turns against you, as it does in China and other Communist nations, it’s not so hard to find a place to meet when you disperse.

  • Bill B.

    Microchurches are great unless you have parishioners with macro egos. I know a small (about 30) WELS church where one couple rules with a iron hand; he’s president of the council, she’s presides over the women, and woe betide the parishioner they don’t like. Even the pastor’s afraid of them, which perhaps explains why the church is all but dead.

  • Bill B.

    Microchurches are great unless you have parishioners with macro egos. I know a small (about 30) WELS church where one couple rules with a iron hand; he’s president of the council, she’s presides over the women, and woe betide the parishioner they don’t like. Even the pastor’s afraid of them, which perhaps explains why the church is all but dead.

  • JonSLC

    Anyone have insight into what this phrase in the last sentence means: “from valuing strong individuals”?

    Is it referring to strong pastors? lay leaders? Is it along the lines of what Bill B. speaks about (@ 4)?

  • JonSLC

    Anyone have insight into what this phrase in the last sentence means: “from valuing strong individuals”?

    Is it referring to strong pastors? lay leaders? Is it along the lines of what Bill B. speaks about (@ 4)?

  • Bill B

    Jon@5,
    I think that ‘valuing strong leaders’ means here the desire for strong executive leadership, e.g., John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, etc. Such churches are known for their dynamic speakers.
    I doubt that my WELS example is what was meant, because I was describing bullies, not leaders.

  • Bill B

    Jon@5,
    I think that ‘valuing strong leaders’ means here the desire for strong executive leadership, e.g., John MacArthur, Mark Driscoll, etc. Such churches are known for their dynamic speakers.
    I doubt that my WELS example is what was meant, because I was describing bullies, not leaders.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bikebubba

    Where does it say valuing strong leaders? I see “valuing strong individuals…”

    Agreed that one strong individual can either make or break a church–let’s be fair, though; big churches can have the same problem, perhaps in a worse way.

    And sometimes not intentionally. My former church had a wonderful pastor of amazing gifts who built a slew of ministries–all of which have fallen on hard times since his departure. Pastors need to keep in mind that their church needs to work with leadership of ordinary gifts.

  • http://www.bikebubba.blogspot.com bikebubba

    Where does it say valuing strong leaders? I see “valuing strong individuals…”

    Agreed that one strong individual can either make or break a church–let’s be fair, though; big churches can have the same problem, perhaps in a worse way.

    And sometimes not intentionally. My former church had a wonderful pastor of amazing gifts who built a slew of ministries–all of which have fallen on hard times since his departure. Pastors need to keep in mind that their church needs to work with leadership of ordinary gifts.

  • JonSLC

    Bill, thanks for the clarification. I think you’re right; the article is likely referring to strong executive leadership. I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. If the pastor is a strong leader with a humble, servantlike heart, he can do much to foster community in a church. And if he preaches the gospel well, the Spirit will be doing much to bind hearts together. I can only guess that the woman quoted must have had a different experience.

  • JonSLC

    Bill, thanks for the clarification. I think you’re right; the article is likely referring to strong executive leadership. I don’t think they have to be mutually exclusive. If the pastor is a strong leader with a humble, servantlike heart, he can do much to foster community in a church. And if he preaches the gospel well, the Spirit will be doing much to bind hearts together. I can only guess that the woman quoted must have had a different experience.

  • Bruce Gee

    Yes, the drawback of the small church is indeed the tendency of a couple or small clique having “ownership” over the church. We’ve been in those churches, and they are indeed difficult. Usually, the “bullies” also have money, and have in so many words bought themselves a church. I think it would be wise if looking for a smaller congregation at which to worship to try sniffing this out a bit before getting too involved. I’ve found that the decisive factor in how liturgical and confessional a congregation is is not the pastor but the laity.

  • Bruce Gee

    Yes, the drawback of the small church is indeed the tendency of a couple or small clique having “ownership” over the church. We’ve been in those churches, and they are indeed difficult. Usually, the “bullies” also have money, and have in so many words bought themselves a church. I think it would be wise if looking for a smaller congregation at which to worship to try sniffing this out a bit before getting too involved. I’ve found that the decisive factor in how liturgical and confessional a congregation is is not the pastor but the laity.

  • Peter Leavitt

    In the long run the size of churches is less important than then their quality in terms of being true to the Cross. Let us not get bogged down regarding quantity, when it is quality that really matters.

    Americans tend to romanticize about smallness, when in reality,for better or worse,we are a large country that hsppens to lead the world.

  • Peter Leavitt

    In the long run the size of churches is less important than then their quality in terms of being true to the Cross. Let us not get bogged down regarding quantity, when it is quality that really matters.

    Americans tend to romanticize about smallness, when in reality,for better or worse,we are a large country that hsppens to lead the world.

  • Economist Doug

    I do notice many confessional Lutherans look disdainfully on megachurches.

    Is there a substantive reason for that?

  • Economist Doug

    I do notice many confessional Lutherans look disdainfully on megachurches.

    Is there a substantive reason for that?

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    In Lutheranism, most of the megachurches are those that have largely jettisoned the traditional Lutheran liturgy and other distinctives in favor of contemporary worship styles and a more generic evangelicalism.

    It does not have to be that way, though. We used to belong to one of the biggest congregations in the LCMS, one that qualifies as a megachurch, that remained on the conservative side. I know of some others.

    Still, I appreciate our “microchurch” much more. We really are closer to our pastor, and he is better able to offer pastoral care to everyone. People in the congregation are all able to know each other better. It seems to me that liturgical worship works best on a smaller scale. All of these are important to confessional Lutherans.

  • http://www.geneveith.com geneveith

    In Lutheranism, most of the megachurches are those that have largely jettisoned the traditional Lutheran liturgy and other distinctives in favor of contemporary worship styles and a more generic evangelicalism.

    It does not have to be that way, though. We used to belong to one of the biggest congregations in the LCMS, one that qualifies as a megachurch, that remained on the conservative side. I know of some others.

    Still, I appreciate our “microchurch” much more. We really are closer to our pastor, and he is better able to offer pastoral care to everyone. People in the congregation are all able to know each other better. It seems to me that liturgical worship works best on a smaller scale. All of these are important to confessional Lutherans.

  • David Appold

    Doug @11,

    Another matter of concern for megachurches is that it would be very difficult for the pastor(s) to serve the people in any way outside of preaching. Funerals, hospital visits, marriage counseling, confirmation, etc. all become very difficult for one or two men to do in a huge congregation. In addition to that, how is a pastor to recognize his congregation at the communion rail when it comes time to distribute the Sacrament?

  • David Appold

    Doug @11,

    Another matter of concern for megachurches is that it would be very difficult for the pastor(s) to serve the people in any way outside of preaching. Funerals, hospital visits, marriage counseling, confirmation, etc. all become very difficult for one or two men to do in a huge congregation. In addition to that, how is a pastor to recognize his congregation at the communion rail when it comes time to distribute the Sacrament?

  • fws

    My former pastor Bill Cwirla used to muse that “the lutheran thang seems to work better in small congregations”. Not sure how he feels now that he is a very seasoned and senior pastor, but those musings resonated in my mind.

  • fws

    My former pastor Bill Cwirla used to muse that “the lutheran thang seems to work better in small congregations”. Not sure how he feels now that he is a very seasoned and senior pastor, but those musings resonated in my mind.

  • Economist Doug

    I’m LCMS but I’ve never been to a small Lutheran Church (<400).

    Next time I'm traveling on business I'll try to attend a small service.

    Can any of you guys recommend a good small church in the Fort Lee, VA area? I'll be there for 10 weeks starting in March.

  • Economist Doug

    I’m LCMS but I’ve never been to a small Lutheran Church (<400).

    Next time I'm traveling on business I'll try to attend a small service.

    Can any of you guys recommend a good small church in the Fort Lee, VA area? I'll be there for 10 weeks starting in March.

  • Dan Kempin

    Doug #11 and Veith #12,

    Doug poses a fair point here that is not addressed. “Disdain” is not the same as “disagreement,” and there has been a great deal of disdain dished out for the very sweeping category of “megachurch.” (I don’t mean on this thread or even on this particular blog, but certainly within lutheranism.) Is there a substantive reason for disdain?

    Dr. Veith, (@12) I must point out in all humility that “confessional” does not equal “liturgical.” The papal church is highly liturgical, yet I seem to recall that they condemned those who are “confessional” to hell. (At the Council of Trent, for any who need the reference.)

    (sigh)

    I remember when the debate used to be about theology, not general categories. If a worship practice is wrong, then tell me how it is wrong. Maybe use the Bible. Or use the Confessions. Don’t just tell me it is not “liturgical” and therefore not “confessional.”

    An overreaction to what you said, I know, but it is something that chafes me in these discussions and, I believe, often hinders us from getting to the point.

  • Dan Kempin

    Doug #11 and Veith #12,

    Doug poses a fair point here that is not addressed. “Disdain” is not the same as “disagreement,” and there has been a great deal of disdain dished out for the very sweeping category of “megachurch.” (I don’t mean on this thread or even on this particular blog, but certainly within lutheranism.) Is there a substantive reason for disdain?

    Dr. Veith, (@12) I must point out in all humility that “confessional” does not equal “liturgical.” The papal church is highly liturgical, yet I seem to recall that they condemned those who are “confessional” to hell. (At the Council of Trent, for any who need the reference.)

    (sigh)

    I remember when the debate used to be about theology, not general categories. If a worship practice is wrong, then tell me how it is wrong. Maybe use the Bible. Or use the Confessions. Don’t just tell me it is not “liturgical” and therefore not “confessional.”

    An overreaction to what you said, I know, but it is something that chafes me in these discussions and, I believe, often hinders us from getting to the point.

  • Joe

    Hey Dan – you raise a good point. Here is a very short esay that discusses the problems of using generic American Evangeilical practices in the Lutheran church using the Formula of Concord to explain.

    http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=8876

  • Joe

    Hey Dan – you raise a good point. Here is a very short esay that discusses the problems of using generic American Evangeilical practices in the Lutheran church using the Formula of Concord to explain.

    http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=8876

  • Dan Kempin

    Joe, #17,

    I know Klemet Preus and I think highly of him. He is one of the few to wade into the debate with specificity and theology. That, whether or not he carries his point, is to his credit.

  • Dan Kempin

    Joe, #17,

    I know Klemet Preus and I think highly of him. He is one of the few to wade into the debate with specificity and theology. That, whether or not he carries his point, is to his credit.

  • http://snafman.blogspot.com Snafu

    “Microchurches” work all around the West, I think. Our Lutheran congregation is about 150 members, and it’s considered quite big a congregation (compared to others in our diocese). More confessional congregations are being built up year after year.

    Time will show, but my guess is that this will be more and more the way of the future Christianity and not only in China, North Korea and other countries that don’t tolerate Christians so much.

    Megachurches would be an easy target for persecution e.g. in Iran.

  • http://snafman.blogspot.com Snafu

    “Microchurches” work all around the West, I think. Our Lutheran congregation is about 150 members, and it’s considered quite big a congregation (compared to others in our diocese). More confessional congregations are being built up year after year.

    Time will show, but my guess is that this will be more and more the way of the future Christianity and not only in China, North Korea and other countries that don’t tolerate Christians so much.

    Megachurches would be an easy target for persecution e.g. in Iran.


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